Jeju Island: Hallasan National Park and Hyeopjae beach

The morning light was gently seeping through the blinds of the hotel room. Miss Z. and Hubs were still sleeping undisturbed. I would have been too, if I hadn’t set up my alarm clock for a buzzing sound attack at the crack of dawn. It was not an accident of course; I had planned to go on a morning hike in the Hallasan National Park and since we were leaving Jeju the same day, I needed to get an early start. Couldn’t afford to miss another meal, though; exhausted we fell asleep last night after a dinner on chips and candy, so my energy resources were pretty low by the morning. Breakfast was much more exotic – soup and spicy kimchee cabbage as a side to my omelette. For those of you not familiar with Korean cuisine – kimchee is a collective name for fermented vegetables in a distinctively flavored spicy brine. Yeah, the day was looking much better on a full stomach.

The receptionist called a cab; I didn’t have to pre-book, because I was only going to one destination and it was a regular taxi fare. The cost of the one-way ride was a flat fee of 25000 won  (or 50000 round trip) which is almost half of what a full day multiple-destination tour of Jeju was. Oh well… there were no other transportation options that way, so I had to make peace with the cost.

Twenty five minutes later, the driver dropped me off at the beginning of the shortest trail – Yeongsil.The first kilometer (of the nearly 4km long trail) passes through a wooded area with its own temperature zone. The day was warm and sunny, but it felt much cooler under the thick canopies of the tall trees. Good thing I got a sweater…

The raised wooden walkaway started off deceivingly easy – a couple of steps, then walk for 5 meters,another couple of steps and another 5 meters afterwards. This didn’t go on for too long. No sooner than I reach the half a kilometer mark and I find myself mostly climbing and not doing much walking anymore. Yeongsil may be a piece of cake for the experienced hiker, but for the athletically challenged, it was a breath-taking ordeal in the most literal sense of the wordAt about 1/3 of the trail, I was out of the woods, but very much in the middle of my ‘stair-master’ non-stop climbing experience. Honestly, I was ready to give up on more than one occasion but a brief stop here and there would resuscitate my motivation to continue. Plus the higher I went, the more captivating the view became – looking down from atop of a mountain always brings on an exhilarating sense of freedom.The top areas of Halla mountain are not pointy and steep like most peaks but plateau-like and flat. Hence, the last kilometer of Yeongsil, like a reward for a job well done, is a straight walk all the way to the Witseoreum rest area. The rest area offers nothing more than a covered area in case of unfortunate weather; they also have toilets and a small cafe that sells water and juices. For some reason, I assumed that the Yeongsil trail would lead me all the way to Mt. Halla, but I guess I did not do my research well. Even if I did, however, I had no more time to hike as I needed to be back at the hotel to help Hubs and Miss Z. with the check-out. This guy, however, made it to the summit and you can read his story and view his pictures here.

Going down was much easier on my heart but a real strain on my feet and legs. I am not ashamed to admit that the two hour hike in Hallasan National Park was the most exercise I had gotten in a while and I felt it!… with every muscle and bone in my body.

I was a bit worried I wasn’t going to be able to get a cab back to the hotel, but there were a couple of idle taxis waiting for customers at the foot of the trail. Even though I had negotiated the ride for 25000 won, the driver still turned on the taxi-meter and the final charge came about to be only around 22000 won.

After parting with so much money just so I can get my morning exercise in the mountain, it felt good to spend a measly 3000 won on the bus which took us back to Jeju airport in the early afternoon. We wanted to check in early and get rid of our suitcases before one last detour to Hallim Park. I wasn’t sure whether they would accept our luggage 5-6 hours before departure, but it turned out departure was much sooner than suspected. Apparently, I had forgotten what time I made the flight reservation for and we were scheduled to fly not at 8pm but at 5pm.

The great thing about the flights between Jeju and Seoul is that there are many of those. People tend to purchase tickets last minute at the airport which means that seats are usually available until the very last moment. Because of that, we were able to move our reservation to the later time (the one we thought we had) without any hassle or penalties. So now again we had time to visit Hallim Park as planned. There was no direct bus transportation however and we had to splurge for a taxi once more – 15000 won for a 20 minute drive. We never made it inside the park, we passed time relaxing and hanging by the beach instead.

Hyeopjae Beach (협재해수욕장), located just across Hallim Park, is arguably Jeju’s most popular beach. It’s suitable for families with children, because of the gently sloping water depth. There are shower and restroom facilities, as well as private lodging houses, restaurants and a campground. The pictures on the web advertise its white sands and turquoise waters but it looked a tad more ordinary than promised.A few months before this trip I saw pictures taken at a Korean beach shared on Facebook by my friend Mrs D. (who lives in Seoul). It was almost surreal: beach-goers were doing what normal beach-goers do only instead of wearing bathing suits, most were sporting their everyday clothes. Well, we now got to witness this at first hand.And some more pictures; I’ll let them do the talking.We lingered at the beach until sunset, bid farewell to Jeju and were off to Seoul a couple of hours later.

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